How I Improved My Fueling and Hydration for Racing {Part Two}

How I Improved My Fueling and Hydration for Racing

Back in January, I wrote Part One about the changes I made to my fueling and hydration for long runs, including carrying my own water with Enduropacks electrolytes, switching my choice of running fuel from GU to Hammer gels, and training my stomach to handle fuel. Today, I want to discuss particularly how I improved my fueling and hydration for racing as part two on this topic. 

And as I mentioned in yesterday’s recap of the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon, the changes I made in fueling and hydration definitely contributed to my nearly 5 minute PR.

Fueling and hydration before and after a long race like a half marathon and marathon have always proved significantly more difficult to figure out for me than fueling and hydration for day to day running. The mental stress of a race, the physical stress of running hard for a long period of time, and the logistics of it all pose an additional challenge beyond fueling for a normal weekly 12-14 miles at an easy pace.

Fueling and hydration for racing is obviously trickier to test out, so I did the best I could to prepare during training, developed a thorough plan for race day, and just hoped that it all would come together in my favor on race day.

How I Improved My Fueling and Hydration for Racing


How I Improved My Fueling and Hydration for Racing

Leading up to the Race:

Throughout training, I minimized consumption of the foods that cause GI distress: milk/cream/high lactose cheese, broccoli, cauliflower, and beans. These foods, which were staples during Portland Marathon training, now only enter my diet on a rare occurrence (I can and do eat hummus from time to time, but just not whole beans).  I was even more strict possibly irritating foods during race week: no cheese of any sort, no beef or fatty cuts of meat, and no lentils.

To stay well hydrated, I drank coconut water throughout the week (8 oz a day) and cut back on my alcohol consumption. I have a glass of red wine or a pint of beer most nights, but since alcohol can be dehydrating I went several nights without.

I made a conscientious effort to eat more carbs, especially from fruits, vegetables (including potatoes), and whole grains. After harder workouts and longer runs, I made it a priority to eat a decent amount of complex carbohydrates along with protein and fat to keep my glycogen stores topped off.

The Day Before:

I ate bland and carb-rich meals the day before the race: oats (made with water and an egg whisked in) with chia seeds and a banana for breakfast, a plain Greek yogurt and whole grain cereal for a snack, and natural peanut butter and banana on whole wheat toast for lunch. There’s obviously some fiber throughout this day, but no as much as I normally consume with all of the vegetables I eat.

Before my previous races I would cut out most vegetables in the 2-3 days before the race, but this time I only skipped out on vegetables the day before the race. I used to opt for simple carbs day before and the morning before a race, but I find now that more complex carbohydrates definitely help. As long as I don’t eat a ton of vegetables the day before, fiber isn’t an issue.

I think my stomach is actually more sensitive to the simple sugars in refined flours and grains than the fiber in whole wheat flour or wild rice. Maybe I’m just imagining this, but it does make sense since I always purchase or make whole wheat bread and opt for brown or wild rice over white.

For dinner I had a filet of golden trout with the skin, a baked russet potato cooked in coconut oil, and a half serving of wild rice, all with a generous amount of salt. Nothing too heavy and I opted for a balance of easily digestible carbs (potato) and slow-burning carbs (wild rice). Plus, I personally find a little fat always helps out, especially healthy fats like those from fish and coconut oil.

I also enjoyed a ginger beer (which has a lower alcohol content than normal beer, especially my beloved IPAs) and drank coconut water before bed for electrolytes. Throughout the night, as I woke up periodically, I’d sip on water to stay well hydrated.

[Tweet “Read how @thisrunrecipes improved her fueling and hydration to run a 5 minute #halfmarathon PR! “]

Pre-Race Breakfast:

Just over two hours before start time, I ate my usual pre-long run meal: a piece of whole wheat toast with wild honey and a banana, plus a cup of coffee and 12-oz of water with Enduropacks spray. I sipped on water from waking up (nearly 3 hours before the race) and then stopped drinking water 75 minutes before the start time.

How I Improved My Fueling and Hydration for Racing

Race Nutrition and Hydration:

Seattle’s own Nuun sponsored the race, so each aid station offered Nuun and water. I don’t drink Nuun on a daily basis anymore, but I know my stomach can tolerate it in small amounts. Additionally, they recently reformulated to do away with sorbitol (which can upset my stomach) in favor of stevia, so I wasn’t worried as much about using a different product than I trained with.

I carried my Enduropacks spray just in case, but never used it (you can see it stashed in the pocket of my Saucony bullet shorts – I never even noticed it was there!).

I alternated between water and Nuun at each of the five water stations. At the first couple stations I took just a sip, but by the final two stations I was drinking the whole cup. This was the first race where I didn’t have to walk through water stations, nor did I ever feel like I could not wait for the next water station or was struggling to stay sufficiently hydrated.

I took an apple cinnamon Hammer gel at mile 4.5 and another at mile 9.5, which closely coincided with water stations. The train low, race high philosophy of fueling truly works. Part of me initially questioned taking in this much fuel, but I decided to racing “high” on carbs to see how it worked for me. My body loves carbs, after all.


I’m a firm believer in eating whatever sounds good to you after a race. Proper recovery nutrition should be a concern throughout training, but after a race just eat immediately what you can get down and then indulge later to celebrate.

Want to improve your fueling and hydration for racing and training? I’m offering a 6 Week e-Course to help you accomplish the same thing I did! You’ll receive six weekly lessons, worksheets to help you develop a cohesive and effective fueling and hydration plan, and guidance from a certified running coach!


[Tweet “What mastering your fueling and hydration can do for your running via @thisrunrecipes #fuelyourrun #sweatpink #runchat”]

Enjoyed this post? You may also like:
How to Choose the Best Running Fuel for You
Glycogen Depletion Runs
Fueling on Your Runs: Why, How, and When

Linking up with the Running CoachesCorner

What’s the hardest part about fueling and hydration during a race for you?
What do you eat for your pre-race meal before a marathon or half marathon?
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27 Responses

  1. Sounds like you really made some changes that helped you for your race! Some foods I will eat before a race are bananas, oatmeal, eggs, and honey stinger waffles. I also drink coffee before I run, and now that I am not drinking it I notice a huge difference in my energy on runs most days! I am glad I don’t have any races planned during Lent:)

    1. Oh that’s good you don’t have any races until after Easter! I bet coffee will feel like a huge boost to your running once you add it back in. I’ve heard that athletes who do caffeine fasts then really benefit from coffee.

  2. in my last half which was my first one using hammer gels, I had one starting at the 4.5 mile mark too! I didn’t finish the second one, I think I can only tolerate one and a half gels but maybe that will change next race. I did bring 2 with me in my pocket! I am actually going to try limiting vegetables even more for my next race. although I am very tolerant of them, I do feel lighter and better with less in my system. also, I did really well at the runners world hat trick weekend when I had tomato soup with lots of bread the night before the races. sodium is key!

    1. I would say try two! I used to do one and half also (just couldn’t get down the second half) but then I trained myself a bit for it and wow did it help! And yes to lots of salt – a nutritionist would probably cry at how much I added to my dinner but it definitely helps.

  3. You had alcohol the night before the race? That’s bold! Even I won’t do that, and I’m admittedly pretty cavalier about race fueling.

    In the 3 days before Grandma’s I hydrated like a boss. Water, water, water. This works well for me because then I don’t have to drink at a bazillion different aid stations and can just focus on drinking to thirst. For carbs I would alternate between my Shot Bloks and sports drink at the stations, and never more than once every 3ish miles. The morning of races, a simple PB toast, banana, and coffee seems to work well for me. I like a pasta dish with light sauce the night before.

    During shorter races than the marathon, I don’t eat anything and I just drink to thirst. I actually ran my PR half without taking a single sip of water during the race (it was a chilly morning – I think it’s the only time I’ve ever done that!).

    1. A ginger beer is only like 4% alcohol, and it was to help me relax and not stress about the race. I definitely wouldn’t have even a glass of red wine the night before! Matt Fitzgerald actually suggests that in his book on Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition – no alcohol race week except a beer or wine to destress the night before. Plus I made sure to balance my beer with an extra glass of water. Drinking to thirst is definitely the way to go! And isn’t toast and banana the best before a race?

  4. Well, you know by now that my stomach doesn’t handle much of anything. I’m all about the Immodium on race day! I am really interested in the Enduropacks. I’ve heard so much about them! I wonder where I can buy it?!?! I drink Nuun now and it seems okay but I’d like to try something different.

  5. It’s clear the fueling worked well for you, congrats. Fueling and running is something I have yet to master so I enjoy reading how other people have conquered it.

  6. I typically eat thin-crust pizza the night before a race. However, I ate pizza (not thin crust) Friday night, which was coincidentally the night I got so sick, so my guess is I will now have to find another food because I don’t want to see pizza again anytime soon. Nor do I want to see the Ezekial toast and apple butter I had that morning… Pizza’s not the healthiest, but I like it with the veggies and more sauce than cheese, and it has some carbs in there.

    I noticed something in your pockets in the picture and thought you had a ton of gels for a half! Guess that answers the question if it was the spray. I’ve not used gels or gu or fuel in a half marathon in a LONG time. I don’t train with it (I train low) so I’ve never wanted to use it on race day either. I do eat breakfast before my races.

    Hammer has really good products though. Love the recoverite!

    1. Oh that’s such a bummer about getting sick off of your pre-race food! Hopefully you can find something similar that works. I completely understand why you would not want to eat that again for a while…
      Lol I noticed also how awkward that spray looked in my pocket in the photos! I forget it was there and just didn’t even think to take it out for the photos. Gels or fuel are necessary for a half marathon that’s under two hours, but I definitely find they help me – but every runner is different in how they metabolize fuel! I like to train low though also. I need to try the recoverite – I think I have a sample of it!

      1. The Recoverite is really good. For liquid, I mix it with almond milk or something other than water (I don’t really like ANY sort of protein/refuel shake mixed with water though) and don’t use a ton of liquid. The extra carbs help a lot with recovery.

        I may try a gel again one day. I ran a full a LONG time ago and used them then, but for the past few years I’ve been more of a short distance girly who moved up to longer distances… so never got back into the habit of ever buying/using them. If I decided to train for a full, fueling would definitely be one of the first things I’d need to experiment with and learn about.

  7. This is all such great information Laura! I love how seriously you took this and how in-tune you became to your body and it’s needs though out the entire process. I started having Hammer Gels after you mentioned them here and, although I do still like Cliff shots, the Hammer gels are better for me on runs that are longer then 70 minutes or so…
    Congratulations – well done and well deserved!!

    1. Thank you so much Allie! It’s amazing what a difference paying attention to fueling and hydration can make , which makes we really curious about doing more high-low training and becoming more metabolically efficient…I’m glad you’ve had good luck with using the Hammer gels! I only use them for runs longer than 90 minute as well because they can be like rocket fuel.

  8. I have a pretty strong stomach so I can eat a variety before runs, but on race days, I’ll stick to a piece of toast with PB and 1/2 banana with coffee earlier, and then the other half banana right before. I love Nuun!!

    1. Toast is such a good pre-race meal! Something about it is so soothing and calming on the stomach and then bananas have so much potassium. I don’t drink Nuun everyday but I like it for races, especially over Gatorade/etc. I wish more races used Nuun!

  9. I’ve learned over the years what works and what doesn’t. Seems like the older I get, the more sensitive my stomach is! You know my go to for the long races is my beloved Tailwind Nutrition. I like Nuun for hydration but not for endurance events. My pre race dinner is pizza, believe it or not. Just cheese. No carb loading for me.

    1. It’s funny how we’re opposite on Nuun – I like it for events but not day-to-day hydration. Pizza is such a good pre-race meal if one can tolerate cheese – so simple, carby without being too heavy, and yummy 🙂

  10. Nuun is my favorite way to hydrate! I start drinking it daily the week before a big race. I swear I can’t even have a sip of alcohol before a race or it completely throws me off.

    1. I really wish more races carried Nuun instead of Gatorade! Everyone is different on alcohol and it’s awesome that you know what works for your own body – that’s the key to really mastering your fueling and hydration!

  11. YES, refueling is SO essential right after a race… When I started to realize more and more how much God made my body to need food, the more I realized how important it was to eat right before and after and during a race.

    1. Yes! God created our bodies to utilize food as energy, and also to enjoy food. It’s an extraordinary process, really, and I always think that part of honoring God’s creation is by nourishing my body and helping others do the same.

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